There is absolutely nothing in sports that compares to the excitement of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. There isn’t an office in the U.S. without a bracket pool of some sorts. Let me share with you some of my thoughts on this upcoming tournament and what you should be looking for in your brackets.
In picking potential final 4 teams and champions I find it much easier to eliminate teams from consideration to narrow down the selections. Here are some of the criteria I will use
1. Pre Season AP Rankings can predict tournament success
The following comes from a Nate Silver article in the NY Times before the 2011 tournament.
Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 41 cases in which a school that was unranked to start the season entered the tournament ranked in the A.P. top 10 (excluding a couple of cases where the team was ineligible for tournament play). These schools, as you might expect, were seeded highly: eight were No. 1 seeds and another 17 were seeded No. 2.
Absolutely none of these teams have made the Final Four, however: they are 0-for-41. Instead, they have been the victims of some notorious upsets, like the No. 2-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks losing — by 13 points! — to the No. 15 seed Coppin State in the opening round of the 1997 tournament, and the No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers being one of Davidson’s victims in 2008. Three of the No. 1 seeds that fit this description — Michigan in 1985, St. John’s in 1986, and Cincinnati in 2002 — lost in the Round of 32.
Since this article I have kept track of the teams qualifying
2011 Notre Dame (2) lost in 2nd round to Florida
2012 Florida State (3) lost in 2nd round to Cincinnati
2013 Georgetown (2) lost in 1st round to Florida GC
2013 Miami (2) lost in 3rd round to Marquette
2014 Villanova (1) lost in 2nd round to Uconn
2014 Iowa St (3) lost in 3rd round to Uconn
2015 Maryland(4) lost in 3rd round to Kentucky
2015 N. Iowa (5) lost in 3rd round to Louisville
Current Teams in the top 10 not ranked in the pre season
3E West Virginia
2. 3 Point Shooting
In this day and age of college basketball the three point shot has become extremely important.
Since 2007 no team who shoots under 30% from behind the arc has won a game in the tournament.
No teams fall into this category this year
Since 2007 only 4 teams shooting under 33% from 3 have made the elite 8. If you are not going to shoot the 3 well then you need to defend it well. In 2012 both Louisville and Ohio State made it to the final 4 with sub 33% 3 point shooting but both defended the 3 as good or better than they shot it. Louisville gave up 30.3% from 3 and Ohio State 32.5%. Last year Kentucky was sub 33% but they defended it well at 32.5%
Teams to be leery of
3E West Virginia 32.9%
11S Wichita St 32.9%
13S Hawaii 32.8%
16W Holy Cross 32.7%
8W St. Josephs 32.7%
9E Providence 32.1%
1E North Carolina 31.4%
From the list above here are the defensive stats for 3pt% against
3E West Virginia 33.2%
11S Wichita St 32.7%
13S Hawaii 31.3%
16W Holy Cross 36.5%
8W St. Josephs 31.0%
9E Providence 32.1%
1E North Carolina 36.0%
This is really a dangerous stat for 1 seed North Carolina. They do not shoot the 3 well nor do they defend it well. This would be one of the favorites to fade.
3. Points Per Game
Playing defense is great but you will need to keep pace with great offenses come tournament time.
80 Teams have scored 73 PPG or less coming in to the tournament and had a 1-4 seed. 11 made the final 4 with no champions.
This year there has been a change in the rules. The shot clock has gone from 35 to 30 seconds. This has caused more possessions and as such higher scoring. The average ppg per team since 2010 are as follows
2010-11 : 68.28
2011-12 : 67.25
2012-13 : 66.72
2013-14 : 70.10
2014-15 : 66.76
2015-16 : 72.29
Scoring has increased about 6.6%. If we add 6.6% of 73 to 73 we get an average ppg of 77.8. This is now the number needed to be exceeded in order to be a contender. To be conservative we will round down to 77.5 PPG
Here are the 1-4 Seeds and their PPG
Several teams fall under the threshold.
3W Texas A&M
4. Coaches Success
Coaches are very important to the success of a team come tournament time. The great coaches tend to outperform their expectations.
This is taken from Pete at Bracket Science
Using tourney appearances and Elite Eight trips, I’ve come up with the following taxonomy of coaching types in the tourney:
Rookies – making their first trip to the tourney
Novices – 2-5 tourney trips with no Elite Eight runs
Prodigies – 2-5 tourney trips with at least one Elite Eight run
Snake-bit – more than five trips with no Elite Eight runs
Flashes – more than five trips with one Elite Eight run
Destined – 6-10 trips with more than one Elite Eight run
Veterans – more than 10 trips with 2-4 Elite Eight runs
Legends – more than 10 trips with more than four Elite Eight runs
I’m focusing this analysis on one through six seeds, the seeds most likely to advance in the dance. A standard PASE analysis on the eight classes of coaches turned up these results:
As the chart shows the “snakebit” coaches are ones you will want to stay away from picking to make a deep run.
This years Snake Bit coaches with a 1-6 seed are:
5. Scoring Margin
Using the PASE (Performance above seed expectations) stat from the now defunct Bracket Science the number one determinant of being able to outperform your seed expectation is scoring margin.
119 teams have been a 1-4 seed and come in to the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin. 49 have made the final 4 (41%) and 17 have won it all (14.3%).
There have been 8 teams in the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin and a strength of schedule 70 or worse. None made it to an elite 8. Nobody fits this as Michigan St has a strength of schedule of 60.
Of the 145 teams to get a 1-4 seed and have a scoring margin under 10 just 2 have won a title and 11 have gone to the final 4.
Teams under the 10ppg margin are
4MW Iowa St
28 Champions since 1985 have been a 1-4 seed with just 3 seeded higher. So for a potential champion we should eliminate all teams seeded above 4.
From the above we can eliminate the following top 4 seeds from championship contention
Team (corresponding number from above that eliminated them from consideration)
3 Texas A&M
1 North Carolina
3 West Virginia
4 Iowa St
That leaves the following contenders
2. Michigan St
It is unusual that it works out where we are left with 1 team in each bracket. That makes it pretty easy to pick our final four. I have no issue riding any of these teams in my bracket.